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Feeling boxed in, the company that pushed the boundaries of modular building is cutting out of the business.
Developer Forest City Ratner is selling its factory in the Brooklyn Navy Yard to a Roger Krulak, a former executive at the company. The Navy Yard facility produced 930 units for the world's tallest modular structure—461 Dean Street, a 32-story tower in Pacific Park (née Atlantic Yards) designed by SHoP.
When factory first opened, Forest City planned to build structures to support the guts (plumbing, bath, kitchen, and electrical) of every one of Pacific Park's buildings. The firm touted modular building's efficiency, cost-effectiveness, and its potential impact on the construction industry—one Forest City executive called the technology at the factory its "iPhone moment."
Unlike Apple, though, which comes out with new iPhones annually, 461 Dean Street tower took four years to construct. This was due in part to the building's structural issues, but also to long-running disagreements between Forest City and Skanska, which ran the factory until Forest City regained control to streamline operations. The project has the dubious honor of having one of the most languid construction timelines for a tower of its size in city history, the New York Times reports.
Despite setbacks, modular building is appealing because all of a building's parts can be made at one site, shielded from the elements, under the watchful eye of the project's designers and engineers. Although low- and lower-rise buildings, like nArchitects' Carmel Place, are soundly modular, the Dean Street building needed extra engineering, primarily steel reinforcement to provide resilience against high winds.
“The bumps we hit, with respect to Skanska, are typical of any start-up,” a sunny MaryAnne Gilmartin, the chief executive of Forest City Ratner, told the Times. “The good news is that we’ve worked out a lot of the bugs and gotten through the growing pains of innovation.”
Although modular has more than proved its merit in smaller projects, 461 Dean Street tested the technology's limits. It remains to be seen how Krulak, and other players like Capsys, will scale modular to meet its lofty aspirations. For his part, Krulak estimates that his company, Full Stack Modular, could help clients save up to 20 percent on the project's cost.
Ride Share or Ridership?
How does the design of Los Angeles's new Expo Line stack up?
The L.A. County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) has finally rebuilt one of L.A’s original commuter streetcar lines: The Expo line, a 15.2-mile long appendage that will link Downtown Los Angeles to Santa Monica. Completion of the $2.5 billion route marks an important milestone for the region’s maturing 25-year-old rapid transit system. The lead architectural and urban design was by Gruen Associates who, with planning and design firm RAW International, crafted the system’s transit stops; Parsons Brinckerhoff carried out overall planning; and Skanska spearheaded construction. The Expo line is the transit agency’s latest effort to weave light rail travel into a growing, multimodal web of mobility options available to Angelenos—it is as much a new way to see Los Angeles as it is a train.
While the system’s 1990s-era subway stations play fast and loose with decorative schemes—from massive boulders at Beverly and Vermont to highly polished kitsch at the Hollywood and Vine and Chinatown stops—Expo stations are subdued. Mostly located at-grade and topped by a half-hexagonal mop of ocean wave–inspired, perforated aluminum panels supported by a sinuous, pale-blue, crisscrossing armature, the stations try hard to be poetically mundane. A product of tight budgets, the line’s many at-grade crossings and stations result in a crude and dangerous construct: Drivers are forced to acknowledge light rail trains and passengers as a legitimate urban presence through their sheer occupation of the street. This condition could benefit from a more aggressive transformation of the intersections and sidewalks leading up to each station: Introducing simple elements like bollards, contrasting paving strategies, and other speed mitigating measures would do much to improve what should be nodes of pedestrian activity.
Stations between Downtown L.A. and the University of Southern California campus are easily approached from the street via handicap ramps and feature no-frills signage. The concourses are, again, simple in their articulation, with a smattering of concrete and aluminum benches. These stations are earnest attempts at creating planted flags in what might one day be a larger, more prototypically pedestrian urban expanse. The empty storefronts along many of the tacky, faux-Italianate perimeter block apartment complexes in the area, while highlighted by the stations’ electric bolt silhouette, have yet to benefit from the line’s booming ridership. As of now, these stops are desolate, quite a few gentrification waves away from being viable transit-oriented developments. At-grade stops between USC and Culver City are also unsuccessful as stations, with complicated tangles of pedestrians, trains, and drivers.
The elevated stations further west, however, like those at Culver City, La Cienega, and Bundy, announce themselves from a distance as a new type of elevated object in the Southern California sky. Less majestic than Chicago’s industrial-era L stations, the elevated Expo stops gently appropriate the language of freeway vernacular, subverting the typical L.A. overpass by co-locating a landscaped bicycle path and potentially, future stations for the system’s new bike share program, along the length of most of the line. These areas are straightforwardly open spaces; the overhead bridges’ weights reach the ground via four discrete and compact piers, leaving room for drop off and transfer areas. Large concrete walls designed in great relief, populated with complex, pixelated geometric motifs and lushly planted with drought-tolerant flora line the bike path itself. Instead of dank, unwelcoming troll bridges like those associated with the freeways, Expo’s overhead crossings are places for collective movement, an aspect exemplified by their minimal treatment and the location of a variety of specially-commissioned art installations at each stop. Riders ascend via elevators and stairways to reach the platforms that provide molehills from which to gaze out over the city’s flatlands. But, because one is walking—and waiting—instead of driving, the effect is potentially one of true introspection.
The western terminus at Santa Monica is also a fundamentally pedestrian urban gesture. The station is built as an elevated plaza that cascades to the north in a broad set of stairs, funneling travelers toward major pedestrian shopping areas and into the intersection of Colorado Boulevard and Ocean Avenue, redesigned as a massive diagonal crossing intersection. Here, the intersection is striped with massive white bands of paint in a strangely fitting plaza and civic space for Los Angeles.
If it is indeed Metro’s goal to normalize multi-modal transit in Los Angeles, then the Expo train, with a few tweaks, is a good template for what the rest of the region’s rapid transit system might look like in the future. Expo’s design and existence is an unexpectedly powerful, if somewhat work-in-progress expression on behalf of transit-mixed streets.
It takes something of considerable magnitude to shift the global limelight from the U.S. presidential election. However, it appears Britain has done just that. The U.K. voted to leave the European Union and the largest trading bloc in the world, of which it has been a member for nearly half a century.
Economists and financial traders have frantically responded; The Architect’s Newspaper surveyed firms for their reactions and examined the outlook for the U.K. and Europe's architecture scene. Before the vote, many of the leading U.K. architecture practices—including Thomas Heatherwick, David Adjaye and David Chipperfield, among others—all pledged their support for remaining in the European Union.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0tItgGcWVHw
In terms of pure economics, share price fluctuation—notably of construction firms and developers—is one good indicator of industry confidence. When the market opened for the first time post-referendum, shares of Barratt Developments PLC, the biggest U.K. house builder by sales, fell as much as 32 percent, while shares of Persimmon PLC, which is the largest builder by market capitalization, dropped by 40 percent. Developers too were also wounded, with Derwent London dropping by 18 percent while British Land and Great Portland Estates saw share prices drop by 16 percent.
About a month prior to the referendum, architects and industry leaders held a panel discussion and came to the resounding conclusion that a "Brexit" would not be beneficial to the industry. David Green, director of Belsize Architects and former head of the European Division of the Bank of England, spoke of how procurement of labor and materials would be hindered by being outside the E.U., thereby inflating pricing.
He also added how the recognition of professional qualifications is “critical"; more decisions post-Brexit will be needed to set a common standard. The same quandary of materials standards would also apply. Jason Prior, chief executive of building and places at AECOM, commented that "Whether it be an Italian facade system or German tiles, those components can be used across the E.U. without any hinderance.”
As for now, the U.K. is still in the European Union, and the referendum was only advisory. Still, to reject the result would be politically challenging, if not impossible. The next step is to invoke Article 50, which essentially presses the red button on leaving the E.U. The process gives the U.K. two years to negotiate an exit deal. Provided that many of those who voted to leave cited immigration as their motivation, the free movement of people and labor may be tricky to maintain.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1BMRq96sAwk
The British construction industry relies on Eastern European builders and tradesmen, coming most notably from Poland and Lithuania. David Thomas, chief executive of Barratt Developments, said “If you ask any house-builder what their main challenge is, they say it’s labor availability.” That labor supply, of course, could be maintained if Britain negotiates access to the single market (the European Economic Area) in an approach similar to Norway, whereby freedom of movement is still permitted.
Currently embroiled in the midst of a housing crisis, the U.K. government has been urged by the Federation of Master Builders (FMB) "to not turn off the free-flowing tap of European migrant workers;" the FMB added that twelve percent of British construction workers are of non-U.K. origin. "They have helped the construction industry bounce back from the economic downturn, when 400,000 skilled workers left the industry," the FMB said.
Another complication of Britain's impending withdrawal is that Scotland now has a strong mandate for a repeat referendum on their own independence. In 2014, 55 percent of voters from an 85 percent turnout chose not to leave. For the E.U. referendum, only 67 percent of the electorate turned out to vote, but should Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon's calls for independence be successful, England would lose a wealth of timber stock, notably Scots Pine, which could make meeting England's housing demand even more tricky.
Former London Mayor and leading protagonist of the Leave campaign, Boris Johnson, has said that Article 50's enactment “will not come in any great rush." Johnson, who is the bookmaker's favorite to be the next Prime Minister, also added that his only aim is for Britain to "extricate itself from the E.U.’s extraordinary and opaque system of legislation.” However, this notion was recently rebuffed by an E.U. diplomat who said “You cannot have your cake and eat it.”
Meanwhile, the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) spoke of how architects bidding for public contracts in the E.U. would probably not be hindered. "For architects bidding for public contracts in the EU, no immediate changes are likely," they said. "E.U. law expressly forbids any weight in a procurement decision being given to the country of origin of a bid for a public contract. As such, access to public contracts for U.K. bids is not dependent on the U.K.’s membership of the E.U."
Here's what some of the leading figures in Britain and Europe had to say on the referendum result:
Rogers, Stirk Harbour and Partners
“Where do we go from here?" Richard Rogers' practice has asked. "We now face a difficult period of great uncertainty. All those questions left hanging by those leading the drive towards leaving the EU will now have to be answered. This will take time (years) and in the interim requires great adaptability and resilience from us all."
Renier de Graaf has said in a statement: "In a world where the most pressing issues inevitably exceed the size of nations, interdependence between nations is a fact. When problems escalate, so must inevitably the arena in which they are addressed. An institution like the E.U. is born out of the knowledge that in the face of the bigger issues we are all minorities. Countries in Europe have a choice: they can either realize or ignore the fact they are small. Yet small they are. All. Including Britain."Allies & Morrison
In a statement to The Architect's Newspaper the firm said: "More than a quarter of our staff come from other E.U. countries. Over the course of our careers, we have enjoyed, been stimulated by and come to rely on their intelligence, broad education and warm experience. We remain committed to employing the best people from around the world."Co-founder Graham Morrisson said: “Over the course of our careers, we have enjoyed, been stimulated by and come to rely on the intelligence, broad education and warm experience of the many architects from the E.U. that we have had the privilege to employ." Fellow co-founder Bob Allies, added: “More than a quarter of our staff come from the EU and the thought of losing that easy access to such a rich seam of talent is a consequence of the vote that will take a long time to adjust to.” David Adjaye Associates “We are truly disappointed with the outcome of the referendum," said Adjaye's office in a statement. As an increasingly international business, which benefits from a global pool of talent (and in particular from within the E.U.), we were hoping to remain."
3D Reid“I fail to see how the Leave vote can be a good thing, certainly in the short term, but the truth is we simply don’t know what this means in the long term," said Graham Hickson-Smith, Director, 3D Reid. “The impact on sterling says it all. An out vote is bad for business." Skanska
Swedish construction firm Skanska issued a statement to AN: "Skanska acknowledges the choice made by the people of the U.K. to leave the European Union. Now the result is known, there will inevitably be a period of uncertainty as the country adjusts to the outcome of this very important decision. We will continue to assess the longer-term implications of the result on our business. However, we do not envisage any significant changes in the near future.”
No Longer Up In the Air
$4 billion LaGuardia renovation to begin this summer
With more than a dozen projects under construction or preparing to break ground soon, the South Boston Waterfront is finally fulfilling the ambitions of so many developers—and the late ex-mayor Tom Menino, who once proposed moving City Hall there—who have glanced across the Fort Point Channel and seen potential.
Menino never decamped city government from its Brutalist offices downtown, but he did rebrand part of the South Boston Waterfront as the Innovation District. Although more commonly known as the Seaport District, the area has nonetheless succeeded in attracting the kind of tech jobs that its futuristic nickname suggests. General Electric announced last year that they’d leave their longtime headquarters in Connecticut for Boston, setting their sights on the Seaport District. Already home to millions of square feet of new office space, the Seaport hardly needed more validation as the epicenter of Boston’s commercial real estate boom. But GE’s intentions also come amid calls for more holistic planning in the rapidly changing Seaport, where shortages of housing and parking threaten to throttle human-scale development in the new neighborhood just as it gets on its feet.
The Seaport District, which comprises about 1,000 acres on the South Boston Waterfront, has long been an urban oddity. Until recently it was a sea of parking lots, rail yards, and muddy, postindustrial wharfs. Just across the Fort Point Channel from downtown Boston, it seemed ripe for rebirth. Things got going in 1991, when Pei Cobb Freed & Partners planted the John Joseph Moakley Courthouse there, paving the way for future development. Rafael Viñoly’s gleaming convention center opened in 2004, along with the public transit route known as the Silver Line, followed two years later by the Institute of Contemporary Art, designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro.
Commercial development followed. Vertex Pharmaceuticals bought more than one million square feet of lab and office space in a pair of 18-story towers along the waterfront. Last year PricewaterhouseCoopers left Boston’s Financial District for the green-glass office block at 101 Seaport Boulevard, now also home to the U.S. arm of its Swedish builder, Skanska.
Skanska broke ground in July on an oval-shaped building by CBT Architects, departing from the district’s growing forest of boxy office towers. Kohn Pedersen Fox’s 23-acre Seaport Square project, first proposed in 2010, is offering an “urban village” with high-rise housing clustered around landscaped plazas. Elkus Manfredi Architects is behind several projects in the neighborhood—which is also home to its office—most recently 150 Seaport Boulevard, a 22-story condo tower whose glass facade twists and billows like a ship’s sail.
“There were many people who didn’t believe this could be a viable part of Boston,” said principal Howard Elkus, whose latest project is targeting a 2017 groundbreaking. “You’re seeing the early stages of development. It’s hard to believe, given everything that’s going on, but there’s a lot of remaining potential here in the Seaport.”
City plans say more than 25,000 people may live in the Seaport District once it’s all built out (at an unspecified date in the future), which would make it more populous than many better-known Boston neighborhoods including Charlestown and Back Bay. Today, however, it has fewer than 2,000 housing units and largely empties out after business hours. That hasn’t stopped condos from fetching astronomical fees. Last year the area topped Back Bay as the priciest real estate in the city per square foot—a figure somewhat skewed by the sale of four penthouses at developer Fallon Company’s Twenty Two Liberty, which totaled more than $25 million. With GE on the way, city planners and developers now have to pull off a real innovation: How to translate a developer’s playground into an affordable, livable community.
The recently opened Harvard Art Museums consolidates under one roof the university’s three art museums: the Fogg, the Busch-Reisinger, and the Arthur M. Sackler. Combined, these institutions boast larger holdings than the Boston MFA, some 250,000 objects, all of which are available to students by request. Designed by Renzo Piano Building Workshop in collaboration with Payette, the new facility’s purpose is to make this impressive collection more accessible with the hope of encouraging scholarship. At 200,000 square feet, it includes galleries, teaching spaces, and a sizeable conservation studio, as well as an auditorium and lecture hall.
The site chosen for the new facility was that of the existing Fogg, a protected 1927 Georgian revival edifice that had been added to several times over the years. The design team completely overhauled the Fogg, stripping it down to the landmarked portions of the building, which left the facade and about two thirds of the floor space, including an arcaded courtyard. A new Alaskan White Cedar and glass–clad, steel-framed structure was then added that seamlessly integrates with the historic building. A circulation corridor was cut through from Quincy Street to Prescott Street and a sloping, steel-framed glass roof links the old and the new.
“Renzo’s concept was to rip out the existing roof and put in a clear glass roof so that you would be able to see the sky,” said Robert Silman, president emeritus of structural engineering firm Robert Silman Associates (RSA), which worked with the architects on the project. “It’s a trademark of his work. This project, the Morgan, and the Whitney, all of which we worked on, have this characteristic. He likes to articulate the components and to make them visible. Slick isn’t what he’s after. There ought to be visible clarification of the primary, secondary, and tertiary members, and how the glass interacts with that framework. That’s the stuff you have to work on in collaboration from the beginning, or it doesn’t happen.”
The glass roof support structure is made up of double king post trusses that interlock to form its two halves. RSA performed extensive studies and worked closely with German fabricator Josef Gartner to engineer the system’s main structural components to a high-degree of precision so that it joins seamlessly with the existing building and the new steel-framed addition. The design team was able to convince the department of buildings to consider the roof a skylight, allowing them to only fireproof the structure’s hip brackets, a job that was accomplished with an intumescent coating. The rest of the structure is exposed, putting Piano’s carefully thought out connections on view for contemplation.
The conservation studio occupies the majority of the top floor, the fifth, giving the conservators access to abundant daylight. The fourth floor is dedicated to teaching, while second and third floors are reserved for gallery space. The first floor houses offices and through-building public circulation linking the Harvard campus across Quincy Street with Prescott Street. Throughout the lower floors, the engineering team was challenged with integrating modern mechanical systems with a structure whose beam dimensions and floor-to-floor heights matched the 1920s building. This required multiple pre-planned openings in beams through which to thread the services. The team also designed a frame with closely spaced beams whose bays are expressed with arched ceilings that maximize headroom.
The east side of the addition cantilevers at the second floor over a ramped walkway that links Broadway with the Prescott Street entrance. To the south, this walkway ties into Le Corbusier’s Carpenter Center ramp. Floor-height trusses concealed within the walls support the cantilever over multiple bays of framing and allow for roomy column-free gallery spaces in this section of the addition. To the north and south, glass-enclosed galleries protrude from the main volume of the addition. Mechanically operated wood sunscreens in these sections give curators the ability to control the amount of daylight admitted into the galleries. Here, RSA had to keep building movement within tight tolerances to prevent the screens from binding when slid open or closed.
The auditorium and lecture hall were allocated to the basement, which required a significant excavation of the tight sight. RSA used a slurry wall foundation system that was cross-braced during excavation. In the final construction, the subterranean levels’ floor framing braces the concrete foundation walls. This was a tricky procedure because the ramp of the Carpenter comes down on top of the auditorium roof. It had to be temporarily shored during construction. “We had to hold up the ramp while we demolished a library that was on that spot and built the addition, simply because it’s Corbu,” said Silman. “It’s a block of concrete!” Work of genius or pile of cement, Skanska, which handled the construction, did its work carefully. The Carpenter ramp suffered no damage. Not that you could tell. In the words of Silman, “It’s pretty beat up as it is.”